A minneverdig (memorable) Syttende Mai

How did a Californian college student end up playing trumpet in Oslo’s barnetog?

Pauline Allen

Photo courtesy of Pauline Allen
Pauline Allen and her bandmates prepare to play one of many Syttende Mai events.

Pauline Allen
Portland, Ore.

It was shortly after 7 a.m., and the day was already bright and sunny. Breakfast of brødskiver og pålegg (open-faced sandwiches) eaten, I stood ready in my borrowed suit, red trumpet in hand. I don’t normally get up so early, but this was a special day. This was Syttende Mai and the korps (community band) that I had joined had a full itinerary for the day, including marching in the barnetog (children’s parade) before the king and queen of Norway who would be waving from the palace balcony in Oslo.

How did I, a California college student, end up here in Norway playing trumpet on this day of celebration? It went back to a couple of Google searches and some follow through. The previous year, I had been so inspired hearing stories about folkehøgskole at a Sons of Norway party that I went home and Googled them. Folkehøgskoler are one-year experience-based boarding schools that Scandinavian students can choose to attend, typically between high school and university. I was just finishing my AA and decided that it was the perfect time to take a year learning more Norwegian before transferring to a four-year college. I applied to Rønningen Folkehøgskole, which happened to be both the one closest to my Norwegian relatives and one of the few that offered norsk for foreigners.

After a couple months in Norway, I realized how much I missed playing in a band. Another Google search, this time for “brass bands in Oslo,” taught me that community bands are very popular. I sent an email to Romsås Janitsjar, which looked like the best fit for me. The reply I received said to come to a rehearsal. This was pre-smartphone for me so I took a friend from school with me to help navigate the three buses needed to get there. The band was very welcoming and gave me another opportunity to practice my expanding Norwegian vocabulary. Trives du på folkehøgskole? Hva studerer du? Ja, jeg trives. Jeg studerer kunst og norsk. (Are you thriving at folkehøgskole? What are you studying? Yes I am. I study art and Norwegian). Luckily I also met some carpool buddies who lived down the street from school.

Winter was concert season for the band and summer was parade season. I got to march in two parades with Romsås Janitsjar before returning to California. The first was May 1, International Workers Day, where I was impressed by how many bands there were, and the second was the even bigger Syttende Mai celebration. Many elementary schools have little ceremonies for the holiday where students give speeches about what syttende mai means to them and how grateful they are to drink soda and eat hotdogs and ice cream in celebration. We were up early so we could play at several of these school ceremonies before taking the T-bane (subway) to downtown Oslo for the barnetog.

Waiting in the parade lineup at Akershus fortress, I stood in wonder; never before had I been part of such a big celebration. As we marched by the palace, I made sure to peek in my peripheral at the royal family waving on the balcony and take in the moment.

At the end of the parade we immediately played another set at a restaurant patio. Then, exhausted, we climbed onto a bus going to the next school ceremony we were scheduled to play at. Luckily this stop included a food break—pølse med lompe. Someone bought me an ice cream as a farewell gift. After that, we had just one more school to play at and then my great uncle, Onkel Bjørn, picked me up.

The day wasn’t over yet, and the late afternoon sun was still warm and gorgeous. I changed into a summer dress and walked over to our relatives’ house, where we had a family BBQ in the backyard. As the light of a long day stretched into evening and the festivities came to an end, I thought to myself, “this is a minneverdig (memorable) day.”

Pauline Allen grew up in California. She teaches preschool in Portland and keeps up her norsk language skills by participating in a Sons of Norway conversation group.

Read about the tradition of korps brass bands on Syttende Mai in Norway: www.norwegianamerican.com/featured/leading-the-way.

This article originally appeared in the May 3, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.